Canal Saint Martin links Bassin de la Villette to the Seine

The Canal Saint Martin is one of the most picturesque, unusual and romantic places in Paris.

Canal Saint Martin in Winter
Canal Saint Martin in Winter

An extensive program of rehabilitation indeed transformed its banks, once heavily industrialized, into one of the nicest walks in Paris.

The Canal Saint Martin was listed Historical Monument in 1993, nearly 2 centuries after its construction.

Napoleon I indeed commissioned its construction in 1802 in order to supply drinking water to Paris and to transport goods.

The canal was completed 20 years later.

The 4.5km long Canal Saint Martin flows through the city on a north-south axis.

It therefore links the Canal de l’Ourcq and Bassin de la Villette to the river Seine.

It starts by the Rotonde de la Villette; it then flows in the open through the 10th district up to Rue du Faubourg-du-Temple.

It then flows underground from Boulevard Jules Ferry to Port de l’ Arsenal marina, at Place de la Bastille, where it resurfaces.


The Canal Saint Martin’s heyday lasted from the early 19th century to the inter war.

Boat passing a lock on Canal Saint Martin
Boat passing a lock

Its destruction was even considered during the transport crisis of the 1960s.

Luckily, the vast program of rehabilitation, known as Grancanal, rescued it.

However, the Canal Saint Martin is no longer used for the transport of goods.

It is now entirely dedicated to river cruises between Bassin de la Villette and Port de l’Arsenal.

The canal’s 25m drop is achieved through a series of 9 locks and 2 swing bridges in order to adjust to the progressive declivity of the terrain.

Boats sail gently between the slightly raised embankments.

Lock on Canal Saint Martin

These were planted with plane trees and converted in walks.

Picturesque metal footbridges span the canal and small public gardens provide great views of the boats as they go through the locks.

The Canal Saint Martin is ideal for those who want to escape the busy tourist sites.

The stroll takes about an hour, however, considerably more if you stop on the terrace of the bistros and restaurants that border the Quai de Valmy and Quai de Jemmapes.

Canal’s maintenance

The 2 km long open-air section of the Canal Saint-Martin needs regular maintenance.

Footbridge on Canal Saint Martin

This takes place every 10-15 years in order to check the locks and footbridges’ various equipment.

The cost of the latest maintenance (January 4 to April 4, 2016) amounted to €9,5 million.

The locks’ small openings were opened on December 4, in order to let the 90,000m3 of water flow slowly downstream, towards the Seine.

However, 50 cm of water were left to allow the 5 tons of fish to swim downstream.

Once there, they were collected and placed in special tanks where they stayed during the maintenance.

Canal Saint Martin - Hotel du Nord
Hotel du Nord

Needless to say that the cleaning teams discovered disparate objects…

This included shopping carts, bicycles, motorcycles, bottles, road signs, beds, appliances of all sorts, toilets bowls, parking meters and wheelchairs to name a few!

The most amazing finds, made during in the previous decades, included two 75mm shells dating from WWI, two empty safes and even gold coins.

In total 40 tonnes of junk were discovered at the bottom of the Canal Saint Martin during the maintenance of 2001.

Directions: 10th District and 11th District
Metro: Jaurès, République, Goncourt on Lines 2, 3, 5, 7bis, 8, 9, 11
Coordinates open air sections: Lat 48.882194 – Long 2.369624 and Lat 48.870128 – Long 2.366191

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